I’ve just finished reading this book, which was translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder, and I have lots of thoughts on it- so I thought I would write a review of ‘Hotel Iris’ to share all my thoughts and feelings. I’ve never heard of this book before, but I was intrigued by the blurb, and so thought I’d give it a go.
This is an explicit book, so if this is something that may offend or upset you, perhaps find a different review to read!
‘Hotel Iris’ focuses on a young girl, Mari, who works in her mother’s hotel by the sea. As far as I’m aware, the location is never explicitly stated, but I imagine it as a small seaside area of the country. Across the sea there is a small island where just a handful of people live, and there is a regular boat from the mainland to the island.
This odd location is the home of the man in the novel, and makes for the perfect place for Mari to run to when she needs to escape the hotel. Since the death of her other family members, Mari has been forced to work full-time in the hotel, occupying a kind of Cinderella role for her selfish, money-driven mother.
One day, a man and a prostitute are expelled from the hotel for causing problems, and Mari finds herself attracted to this man and his commanding, deep voice. Something draws Mari to this man, and whether it is boredom from the life she is forced to live with her mother at the hotel, or whether she feels something deeper- an illicit relationship begins to form.
“Shut up, whore.” The voice seemed to pass through us, silencing the whole hotel. It was powerful and deep, but with no trace of anger. Instead, it was almost serene, like a hypnotic note from a cello or a horn.”
One of the aspects I really liked about this book were the characters. Each of the characters played an integral part in the storyline, and each was both weird and wonderful in their own way. The character of the translator was particularly interesting. When Mari becomes attracted to him, it is clear that he feels uncomfortable, and his behaviour on the mainland suggests an insecure and timid man.
But when she goes to his house on the island, he becomes an angry and violent man, using Mari to act out his wildest fantasies. The little perks of his personality are so odd, such as the fact that he always wears a suit, and his back story left the reader in some suspense about his life before he met Mari.
I found this book both thrilling and uncomfortable to read. I thought it was incredibly fast-paced, and the way it was written was brilliant. Ogawa used both a straight-forward style, to keep the action going, but also went into brilliant depth on certain parts, such as descriptions of the sea.
I felt like Ogawa wrote the book in a very sensual way, and I could really build up a picture of everything that was going on. While not much happened in the book, I found the way in which the book was written meant I could not put it down, and finished it within two days.
It was the sex scenes that made me feel uncomfortable to some extent. As everything was from Mari’s point of view, the reader knew all her thoughts and feelings during the affair. At first the violence perpetrated by the translator towards Mari seemed non-consensual, and some of the painful things he did to her seemed harsh and awful.
It definitely wasn’t your ‘average’ relationship. And yet, as the (very in depth) descriptions went on throughout the book, it seemed that Mari enjoyed these experiences.
“He pushed deeper into the darkness, touching places I had never reached myself.”
Despite my reservations about the sex scenes, I think this was the idea of the book. In my view, Ogawa wanted to challenge ‘normal’ perceptions of sex and relationships, using the character of Mari to show the enjoyment that a 17 year-old can take in a brutal relationship with a much older man.
All her life, Mari has been kept behind bars by her mother, and this book follows the emergence of her sexuality as a young woman. I think it’s fantastic that the focus was on her sexuality and pleasure, as female pleasure is so often dismissed. Saying this, the paedophilic aspect of the relationship did make me feel uncomfortable.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I thought the style of the book was something like I’d never read before. I really liked the straight-forward narration of Mari, and the use of her voice really added to the elements of the novel that were both interesting, thrilling, and uncomfortable to read.
I would definitely consider reading this book if you’re a fan of books such as ‘Lolita’ by Vladimir Nabokov, as I imagine the two books are similar to some extent in their themes of obsessive love.
What do you think of my review of ‘Hotel Iris’ by Yoko Ogawa? Would you consider reading it, despite its adult/sensitive themes? What do you think of the ideas discussed?
Let me know all your thoughts in the comments below 🙂
Happy reading x
Picture credits here